When we sleep, our muscles relax – including the tissues of the airway lining and the tongue, which can fall back and partly block the airway. When this happens, the attempt to keep breathing creates the snore.
This tends to be more of a problem for older people (since we lose muscle tone as we age) and those who are obese (more tissue, more potential for blocking the airway).
For some, products such as sprays and breath strips can offer some help, but for others, they may not be enough. In cases of sleep apnea – a potentially serious condition in which a person regularly experiences periods of not breathing at all – use of a CPAP machine may be recommended. CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure,” and the device works to keep the airway open by creating a steady flow of pressurized air into the throat. Occasionally, surgery may be recommended.
Increasingly, though, dentists are stepping up to help patients get relief from snoring via an array of oral devices. For instance, an appliance called SomnoDent is designed to reposition the jaw to help keep the airway open, as described in a recent healthzone.ca article . With such a device, though, it’s vital that the patient’s overall occlusion – their “bite” – is taken into consideration. (When teeth don’t come together properly – when there’s malocclusion – the long-term result is usually jaw, face, neck and head pain, which can become quite debilitating over time.)
Another new device is the aveoTSD , which we recently received information about in the mail. First thought upon seeing the pictures? This can’t be good.
As you can see, the device holds the tongue forward – so, effectively, you’re sleeping with your tongue out all night. This may reduce or stop snoring, but we question its overall impact on orofacial health. It would seem to train the tongue to rest in a forward position, encouraging the development of “tongue thrust.” As noted myofunctional therapist Barbara Greene explains ,
The tongue is meant to support the palate (the roof of your mouth). In the correct posture, the tip of the tongue touches the ridge behind the upper front teeth but not the teeth themselves. The rest of it is arched across the top of the mouth, in contact with the palate and contained within the teeth….
There are many variations of incorrect tongue posture, but all cause stress within the orofacial mechanism. Just as strong, consistent winds compel trees on a bluff to grow at a distinct angle, the consistent pressures from the tongue set against the teeth may play a role in causing conditions such as an open dental bite, gum disease and bone loss, jaw joint breakdown and TMD, recurrent headaches and upper body tension, speech problems, drooling and an altered facial appearance.
As in other aspects of dentistry and medicine, we need to consider how what we’re doing in one area of the body may affect other parts of the body. To “cure” the part without considering the effect on the whole is bad medicine. It’s how we wind up with things like chronic disease stemming from mercury fillings, root canals and other toxic dentistry.
For simple snoring, we recommend starting with the least invasive treatment and going up the ladder from there if necessary. You might start with wearing a breath strip at night. If that doesn’t work, you might try changing habits that can exacerbate snoring. If it remains an issue, you can consult an orofacial myofunctional therapist . While myofunctional therapy doesn’t treat sleep disorders, recent research (PDF) has shown that the therapy can be beneficial in treating mild to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea. A specialist in this therapy can help you tone and retrain your oral and facial muscles, and instill positive habits that may reduce or eliminate snoring.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea , however, do consult your doctor right away, for, as mentioned, it can be a very serious condition.